For years I have joked about “mustard seed anthems.” I have said that contemporary choral composers need to write us a good mustard seed anthem or two, and I have even thought about commissioning a composer to write a mustard seed parable anthem. When Jesus starts off on one of his stories (parables) with “The kingdom of God is like,” the esoteric images usually follow and I get nervous, as often there is not a specific hymn or anthem text to match the story.
The 18th-century carol text “Jesus Christ the apple tree” works with the mustard seed parable, but I suppose that would actually be an apple seed. You see, we still need a mustard seed carol, text, anthem or hymn. If the parables get too involved, we wind up singing a generic hymn of praise or one of the numerous Ave verum corpus anthem settings or the like.
Truth be told, there are two wonderful hymn texts in our hymnal that fit this bill. Dated ca. 110, the Greek text “Father, we thank thee who has planted” (Hymn 302) is actually one of the oldest texts in the book. Using the “seed” and “kingdom” images, the prayer from stanza 2 of this text is poignant: “As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in this broken bread made one, so from all lands thy Church be gathered into thy kingdom by thy Son.” Hits the nail on the head, I’d say.
Moreover, our closing hymn this Sunday speaks specifically to the kingdom of God, and it also conjures up old grad school memories for me. “I love thy kingdom, Lord” (Hymn 524), is a text by Timothy Dwight (1725-1817), president of Yale University from 1795 until his death and for whom Timothy Dwight College at Yale is named. This hymn is sung for Yale College opening convocation each fall, accompanied by the magnificent 197-rank historic Skinner organ in Woolsey Hall. Dwight’s text even includes the seed/planting image in its final stanza: “…to Zion shall be given the brightest glories earth can yield.” This hymn text is a solid affirmation of our love and constant prayer for the Church.